No guarantees for granite products

Sylvia Walker paid R17 000 to have the kitchen renovated at her Lakeside home and the granite countertops were installed by Womag Mobelli of Paarden Eiland.

Ms Walker was so happy with the work Womag did that she recommended them to everyone.

But she wasn’t so pleased when the granite top cracked four months after it was fitted. A deep crack developed on the corner at the cut out for the sink and another underneath, adjacent to the main crack.

“Womag came to inspect it and told me they would replace it if I paid for the plumbing and tiling which would then have to be redone, but I refused,” she said.

“The plumbing cost R2 000 and the tiling R1 600 which was included in the price of the revamp. The tiles are R330 a box and R99 for two decorative strips,” said Ms Walker who had a call from “Shereen” at Womag to say they would replace the granite top if she paid half, but she said no.

This, after managing director, Oren Sachs, who had made the offer by email (to pay half) was overseas but Shereen would speak to him when he returned and get back to Ms Walker. She didn’t.

Ms Walker said she could not find a guarantee for the granite tops but she did note the Ts&Cs.

“That’s because there isn’t one,” said Mr Sachs, who, added as far as he knew, no-one in the industry gave a written guarantee on granite tops although they do on a quartz-based surface such as Caesarstone but for latent defects only.

Mr Sachs said Ms Walker was happy with the job.

“She emailed us, ‘I was so impressed… in particular with the professionalism of Nasreen Railoun. I recommended you to everyone I spoke to.’ But her attitude changed when we refused to replace the counter top after it cracked four months later,” Mr Sachs said. “I have been in the business of natural stone and natural stone fabrication for over 22 years and I can confirm that granite does not crack without a reason.

“Once the granite has been installed, for it to crack, there needs to be an outside force applied, such as someone standing on it, hammering it, or a shift in foundation or earth movement,” Mr Sachs explained.

If there was any inherent micro fissure or latent defect in the granite, it would have cracked at the factory, during transport or installation, when a lot of stress is placed on the stone.

“The fact that it cracked four months later shows that an outside force was applied post installation. We don’t know what it was, but if there were any issues with the natural stone during the installation process, then it would have been our fault and we would have replaced it,” Mr Sachs said. “But we did not offer to replace it at no charge,” Mr Sachs said.

“Ms Walker also complained to Hellopeter and on closed Facebook pages urging people not to deal with us. We had to register with Hellopeter to reply which is when our customer service executive phoned Ms Walker but she was not open to any discussion.

“She said she would lay a complaint with the National Consumer Commission. Our policy is to make sure that our clients are always happy.

“So we offered to replace the piece that cracked at a 50% discount but Ms Walker did not accept our proposal and we have no record of offering to replace the granite at no cost,” Mr Sachs said.

But what does the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) say?

Ashley Searle of the Consumer Protector’s Office in Cape Town, said, according to section 56 of the CPA there is a six-month statutory warranty that falls away if the product has been abused or altered in any way (contrary to instructions) after leaving the supplier.

“So the statutory warranty is not absolute since in certain circumstances such as incorrect usage or consumer negligence it can fall away.

“In this instance there is evidently a dispute between the consumer and Womag which claims that Ms Walker has either damaged the granite top by exerting some force on it, or there were other factors that contributed to the crack. Either way Ms Walker believes there was an inherent fault in the granite,” Mr Searle said.

“This dispute can only be resolved if the parties provide evidence to prove their case but it is clear neither party can substantiate their position. However, Ms Walker can try to get evidence from an expert to help to substantiate her claim or she can accept Womag’s ex-gratia offer but she would have to weigh up the costs,” Mr Searle said.

Ouma Ramaru, spokesperson for the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman, confirmed that there is a six-month automatic warranty from the day of purchase, except under certain conditions.

“Why would the supplier exclude the granite from the warranty,” she asked.

I spoke to several suppliers of granite products and none of them gives a guarantee.

Simon Rawlinson of Marble Mill in Diep River gave the same explanation as Mr Sachs.

* Call the Consumer Protector on 0800 007 081. Contact the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman on 0860 000 272 or info@cgso.org.za; www.cgso.org.za or fax 086 206 1999